Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Meet the Robot That Will Be Bagging Your Groceries

These days, robots are able to perform increasingly sophisticated tasks like shooting hoops, but the most cutting edge robotics focus on applications for unstructured environments. This is because life, for the most part, does not operate like an assembly line and robots need to be versatile enough to handle life’s randomness. Yet even when life does resemble an assembly line, like at a grocery store checkout, robots would still have a hard time performing a seemingly simple task like bagging groceries due to the sheer variety of items available in a typical grocery store.

Enter the new robot from the online grocer Ocado, which employs a soft robotic hand that is capable of picking up a wide variety of fruits and vegetables without damaging them.

In conjunction with the European Union’s Soft Manipulation (SoMa) project, which is exploring industrial applications for soft robotics, Ocado has spent the last year and a half developing the robotic arm that can pick up everything from apples to a bag of limes without damaging them.

The design that was eventually settled on for the robotic hand is called the RBO Hand 2, which uses flexible rubber air chambers for the fingers and pressurized air to change the robot’s grasp based on the object it is handling. The only variable that is manipulated is the air pressure—the fingers adjust themselves to the shape of the object at hand.

The Ocado team is designing the robot for future use in its already heavily automated grocery warehouses, but it still has a bit more development to do before the robot is ready for deployment in the warehouse or your local Whole Foods.

To demonstrate the hand, the researchers used it to pick up individual fruits or collections of fruits (like a bag of limes) from a flat surface. Yet Ocado’s warehouses stock about 48,000 different products, and these items are rarely sitting by themselves. This means the robot will have to learn how to pick up individual objects out of a crate filled with similar objects that will shift around as the robot picks through the crate. According to The Guardian, Ocado is figuring out how to incorporate machine learning and computer vision into its robotic system. Once it’s got this down, the company hopes to begin testing the robot in more complicated scenarios in the coming months.

Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.

from Meet the Robot That Will Be Bagging Your Groceries

This Futuristic Cap Lets People With Paralysis Communicate

It’s a patient’s worst nightmare: They’re paralyzed from an accident or disease, and slowly, even the ability to signal by blinking is taken from them. It’s called total or complete “locked-in syndrome,” or LIS. Fortunately, researchers have a way to help patients with the syndrome “speak” again—by just thinking the words.

Total LIS is common among patients in late-stage Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a progressive motor neuron disease that takes away the body’s ability to move. Patients with this condition can’t speak, write, or blink to communicate their daily needs.

Image: The Wyss Center

According to a study published Tuesday in PLOS Biology, a brain-computer interface inside a cap was placed on the patient’s head, allowing him or her to answer yes or no questions by thinking the answers. The cap detects whether the patient is thinking yes or no by measuring changes in the brain’s blood oxygen levels.

A team of researchers from the US, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and China tested the brain-computer interface on four ALS patients over the course of 40 tests. They asked easy questions with known answers to test if the interface was working. It produced the correct yes or no answer in 70 percent of the tests, according to a release.

Read More: Graphene Brain Implants Hold Promise for Treating Parkinson’s, Paralysis

Researchers also asked patients if they were happy, and the majority said they were. But quality of life could be improved if patients were able to tell caregivers how they’re feeling throughout the day, researchers said.

“If we could make this technique widely available, it could have a huge impact on the day-to-day life of people with completely locked-in syndrome,” said Niels Birbaumer, a study author at the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering in Geneva, Switzerland.

Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.

from This Futuristic Cap Lets People With Paralysis Communicate

Notorious Hacker Phineas Fisher: I'm Alive and Well

Update, 4PM: Hours after the news of the arrests and raids were reported, Phineas Fisher, using the same email address they had been using for the past few months, sent an email claiming they were still at large.

"I think the Mossos just arrested some people that retweeted the link to their personal info, or maybe just arrested some activisty/anarchisty people to pretend they are doing something," Phineas Fisher, or someone who is in control of their email address said, in an email shared by a source who asked to remain anonymous.

Phineas Fisher added that it'd be better to share this information "so there doesn't start a bunch of theories around my disappearance."

The original story follows below:

Police forces in Spain have raided several suspects linked to a cyberattack against the the union of the Catalan police Mossos D’Esquadra on Tuesday. That attack was carried out in May of last year by Phineas Fisher, a hacker who gained notoriety for exposing the secrets of spyware vendors FinFisher and Hacking Team.

Several Spanish newspapers reported news of the raids on early Tuesday. The Mossos D’Esquadra declined to comment as there was an ongoing investigation. But Motherboard was able to confirm that the cybercrime division of the Catalan Police Mossos D’Esquadra coordinated a series of raids and arrests all over the country.

Read more: Hacker ‘Phineas Fisher’ Speaks on Camera for the First Time—Through a Puppet

As of Tuesday evening in Spain, according to the leading Spanish newspaper El Pais, there have been three arrests: a couple in Barcelona, suspected of being behind the attack, and one person in Salamanca, accused of distributing the data that Phineas Fisher stole from the police union, also known as SME (Sindicat de Mossos d'Esquadra).

In May of last year, Phineas Fisher announced he had hacked the SME using its own official Twitter account. The hacker also published the personal information of more than 5,000 police officers online. Hours after the attack, the hacker posted a detailed tutorial video on how he breached SME, while NWA's “Fuck the Police” was blasting in the background.

At this point it’s unclear if the police really got the person behind the Phineas Fisher persona. The hacker did not respond to a message sent to their email address.

Phineas Fisher first surfaced in the summer of 2014, when he broke into the servers of the Anglo-German spyware vendor FinFisher, publicly mocking the company on Twitter and leaking internal data. After almost a year of complete silence, Phineas Fisher hit another notorious vendor of hacking and surveillance technology, the Italian company Hacking Team.

After this attack, the hacker, who identified as an “anarchist revolutionary,” kept a more public profile, posting on a (now deleted) Twitter account. They also tried to encourage more hackers to join the cause and even encouraged people to email him to ask for help.

“I don't want to be the lone hacker fighting the system,” Phineas Fisher told me at the time. “I want to inspire others to take similar action, and try to provide the information so they can learn how.”

It’s possible that the hacker made a mistake and revealed his or her identity or at least location in one of their public or private interactions.

“He was too vocal on Twitter or social media, so it’s possible that he messed up,” Mustafa Al-Bassam, a security researcher and former LulzSec hacker, told Motherboard.

Freddy Martinez, the director of the non-profit organization Lucy Parsons Labs, who had been in contact with Phineas Fisher in the past, said that one of the people arrested was really the hacker.

“I have not heard back from them in recent weeks. I think they've been trying to lay low,” Martinez said in an online chat. “My assumption has long been it's someone from catalan based on their language use,” referring to the fact that Phineas Fisher used English, Spanish, and Catalan in their online postings.

Martinez also launched a Twitter account called @FreePhineas.

Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.

from Notorious Hacker Phineas Fisher: I'm Alive and Well

Give a High Five to This Robotic Arm Made of Balloons

Video: Futurism/YouTube

The world's longest, lightest robotic arm is made of helium balloons. It weighs just 2.65 pounds.

Developed by the Suzumori Endo Laboratory at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, the snakelike robot is made from silver helium balloons, extending as far as 65 feet. Its 20 individual joints are controlled by small pneumatic muscles—devices that contract or extend, operated by an air-filled, artificial bladder-like contraption that fills or releases air.

Video: Futurism/YouTube

While the lightweight robotic arm has hardly any lifting capabilities, it can hold a small camera. This could be useful in inspections or search and rescue.

Also called the Giacometti Arm, named after the artist Alberto Giacometti who made slender sculptures of the human body, the robotic arm carries the risk of succumbing to strong winds. Something very sharp could also potentially pop its helium balloons. But because it's so light and only requires helium inflation, it can be transported almost anywhere and used in situations where other devices, such as drones, can't.

Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.

from Give a High Five to This Robotic Arm Made of Balloons

The 'Right to Repair' Movement Is Being Led by Farmers

A major national group has adopted a policy to fight for the right to repair electronics, but it might not be the one you’d expect: farmers.

The right to repair movement is an effort to loosen laws to allow consumers to be able to fix technology without sending it back to the original manufacturer. Right now, replacement parts and diagnostic tools are carefully guarded by the manufacturer, and right to repair supporters believe they should be available to the public. The effort has largely been driven by the consumer tech sector—like people who want to be able to fix their iPhone instead of buying a new one—but the lack of access to repair materials has greatly impacted farmers, too.

Modern farm equipment is high tech and includes onboard computers, but the majority of farming equipment manufacturers refuse to allow access to the software, claiming it’s proprietary information. That means farmers are stuck waiting for a John Deere technician to swap a tiny sensor when it misfires and shuts down the entire tractor.

They’d rather just fix it themselves or, at the very least, take it to someone locally who can do the job. But right now, that’s not possible.

“John Deere is behaving exactly as Apple is behaving, in a wholly different market: they’re selling equipment and then they’re not allowing anybody to fix it except them,” said Gay Gordon-Byrne, the executive director of Repair.org, a lobbying group that pushes for right the repair legislation.

This has been particularly frustrating for farmers, who have a legacy of fixing and maintaining their own equipment. It can cause havoc during busy seasons like harvest—if a machine goes down and the farmer has to wait days for a repair, it means thousands of dollars in lost revenue. But now the farmers are fighting back.

Read more: Five States Are Considering Bills to Legalize the 'Right to Repair' Electronics

The American Farm Bureau Federation is a non-profit that uses grassroots input to lobby for better agricultural legislation across the country. It’s the largest farmer organization in the country, with affiliates in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, and it just threw its weight behind the right to repair movement by adopting a new policy specifically addressing a farmer’s right to fix his or her own damn tractor.

The Farm Bureau is pushing to amend the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (behind which companies like Apple and John Deere hide) to require manufacturers to provide access to “the same agricultural equipments diagnostic and repair information made available to the manufacturer’s’ dealers.”

John Deere and other manufacturers have opposed right to repair movements, saying that allowing too much access to the software could make the machinery less effective or less safe.

“John Deere makes print and digital versions of our operational, diagnostic, and technical repair manuals available to the public,” the company wrote in a statement to Motherboard. “The embedded code within the controllers and processors on our equipment [...] is designed so that our machines operate as intended, in a safe and reliable manner, and meet all appropriate safety and emissions regulations.”

Some state legislatures have considered bills that would open up the right to repair for farmers specifically, while other have looked at a more broad approach that would cover all electronics, from combines to laptops. But the Farm Bureau has found this issue to be of high enough importance to its members that it’s taking it to the federal level.

“[Our members] believe they bought the tractor, or the combine, or the sprayer, and they should be able to adjust it,” said Mary-Kay Thatcher, the Farm Bureau’s senior director of congressional relations. “They don’t want to mess up intellectual property rights. They know how much it costs companies to develop that stuff. But they want to be able to get in and fix it themselves.”

from The 'Right to Repair' Movement Is Being Led by Farmers

Today a Guy Carrying a Sack of Sloth Teeth Sat Next to Me

So this happened? Earlier today a man (pictured above) who studies the occlusal surfaces of sloth teeth plunked down beside me, at the desk normally occupied by our own Derek Mead, bag of teeth in tow. I had so many questions.

This chat has been edited lightly for length and clarity.

BAA: Who are you, what are you doing here, and what's in the bag?
Ryan Haupt: I'm a paleoecologist working on my Ph.D. at the University of Wyoming. I'm here because I was flying through on my way back from the Dominican Republic, where there used to be sloths, but now they're aren't because people ate all of them. In the bag is the work I was doing down there, molding fossil sloth teeth to see if we can figure out what they were eating based on the microscopic textures left on the teeth by their food. So I have a bag full of sloth teeth replicas in waiting.

How'd you get into any of this in the first place?
I first got into studying sloths because my master's advisor and I were trying to figure out a project. She was getting into the method of looking at microscopic tooth textures. She sort of said, "everyone assumes this technique won't work for sloths because they're super weird, why don't you see if they're right?" So that ended up being my master's, which has just lead to more and more questions about these weird and wonderful animals.

The Caribbean thing happened because my buddy Robert is trying to describe some new species down there. Some of the curators he's working with asked him if he could also tell them anything about the sloth's diet in the past.

He said, "No, but I got a guy." And that's how I ended up in the DR for a week molding teeth.

Brilliant. Sloths are very chill creatures. You said humans ate sloths to extinction in that part of the world?
As far as we can tell. There's a lot of debate about the Pleistocene extinction in North America, but in the Caribbean it's a little clearer: sloths were around after the continental extinction, but as soon as humans arrived they were gone. They actually survived in the Caribbean until about 4,000 years ago, so there were ground sloths chilling when the pyramids in Egypt were already finished.

One of dozens of sloth tooth molds in Ryan's bag.

I wasn't aware sloth was considered sustenance, at least not to the degree you're saying it may've been. These were like, normal-sized sloth? Or giant ground sloth?
Modern sloths certainly don't seem like they'd make a good meal. Up to 30 percent of their body mass is their stomach, so they're essentially just sacks of fermenting plants with arms and legs for climbing to where there are more plants to keep the bag full.

Ground sloths came in a lot of different sizes. We see the largest ones, the elephant-sized Megatherium and Eremotherium, on the continents, but because of the way island biogreography works it's not uncommon (which is a double-negative scientists adore using) to see large animals get smaller when living on an island.

"Sacks of fermenting plants with arms and legs." What a great description. Sloths are tight!
We don't have a great record of sloths evolving into their smaller modern tree-living forms, but the smallest ground sloths we do see came from the Caribbean, so it's possible these were some of the first sloths to take to the trees, even if they're not the ancestors of the ones we see today.

As you can see from the molds in the bag, the teeth weren't huge. I was working with two genera, Parocnus and Acratocnus, the former was a bit bigger, but not by a huge amount. Small bear to large dog sized animals.

Yes. Back to the teeth. How many teeth you got?

Not you. Sloth teeth.
Ha ha.

A pile of bags, each with their own individual sloth tooth mold in them. Labels on and inside the bag are critical. Photo: Ryan Haupt

Why do you have them?
A lot of the work I did was just cataloguing what the collections down there contained. There were a lot of loose teeth that needed to be bagged and sorted before I could get to work. I'm going to take these molds back to my lab and replicate the teeth using epoxy. From there, the epoxy casts can be scanned at 100x magnification on the chewing facet to get a sense of what the sloths were eating.

Sloths are super weird. My collaborator jokes that they're "one cold day from going back to being reptiles." One of their weird quirks is their teeth. Sloths closest living relatives are anteaters, which have no teeth at all.

Sloth teeth are super simplified and lack enamel, so they're softer than our teeth, but they grow continuously throughout their entire life, like the incisors of a rodent, but for their entire mouth. Like reptiles because their metabolism is super slow, their body temperature is very low, and they just seem to go out of their way to defy mammalian norms at all times. [The grinding teeth] are an adaptation to no longer having enamel.

(Quick side note: Tell me you've seen the clip of the swimming sloth from Planet Earth II? I sometimes think we're all sloth just trying to keep our heads above water.)
(Oh yeah, I've been to that region of Panama where the sloths do that, not hard to see how they ended up all throughout the Caribbean.)

Mandible (lower jaw) of an Acratocnus ye from a cave in the Dominican Republic. The cotton swab is used to clean the teeth with acetone prior to molding, because at the fine scale dirt and dust can mess up the microwear scan and obscure the tooth's true texture. Photo: Ryan Haupt

If you had to compare sloth teeth with human teeth, it sounds like they're almost like human teeth at the end of a long life. Lacking enamel, ground down.
Except human teeth don't keep growing to replace what's been ground away. But yes, we do see loss of enamel in older mammals, including humans. Enamel is a very expensive tissue to replace.

Teeth are super important to mammals, a lot of mammalian evolution can be looked at through teeth. There are entire species that are known from a single tooth.

Teeth stress me out.
I totally have that teeth falling out nightmare on the regular.

Upper left caniniform tooth (scaled in centimeters) from a Parocnus serus, also from a cave in the Dominican Republic. The outermost layer of cementum has worn off so you can see those beautifully preserved bands of ever-growing dentine underneath. Just lovely. Photo: Ryan Haupt

What's up with that? I do too. Except I'll go through a stretch of regular falling-out teeth dreams then they'll go under for a while. A stress thing maybe. Anyway. So you're en route back to Wyoming. When are you leaving? And what'd you do with Derek?
I'm leaving in a few hours, hoping the snow both here in Brooklyn and up in the mountains doesn't get in the way.

Derek and I go way back, we studied abroad in Costa Rica together, years before I ever even thought I would end up a sloth researcher. We have a really good group of folks down there, I keep in touch with some of them who also became scientists, and cool science supporters like Derek. Even met my wife on that trip.

A sloth love story.
It did take a long time for her to come around on me…

Sloth pace. All things in time.
"Tranquilo" as Derek and I's Costa Rican mentor, Frank, would tell us.

I love it.
DR was great by the way. Friendly people curious about my work, and awesome street meats. I'll definitely be back.

Well on that note.
Yeah, it was great chatting with you about all this. I don't have any results yet, but it's cool to tell people about how science works as a process.

And if people want to follow along and get updates while I work, they can follow me on Twitter @haupt or check out my website, ryanhaupt.com, where I link to all my publications and stuff.

from Today a Guy Carrying a Sack of Sloth Teeth Sat Next to Me

Trump’s FCC May Let ISPs Sell Your Private Data Without Your Consent

If you like your online privacy rights, can you keep them? Under Trump, the chances are grim.

Federal regulations protecting consumers from broadband industry privacy abuses will soon be eliminated if the nation’s largest Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and their Republican allies on Capitol Hill have their way.

The US broadband privacy safeguards, which were approved last year by the Federal Communications Commission, require ISPs like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon to obtain “opt-in” consent before they “monetize” sensitive consumer data, including online browsing activity, mobile app data, and emails and online chats.

As President Trump and GOP lawmakers move swiftly to remove regulations across large swaths of the economy, the nation’s biggest ISPs are working overtime to ensure that the FCC’s privacy policy is part of the regulatory rollback. The broadband industry is pursuing a dual-track strategy by pressuring the FCC to halt the privacy policy, while simultaneously lobbying Congress to rescind the rules outright.

Under the recently-approved FCC policy, consumers must affirmatively give their ISP opt-in permission to use private information for marketing purposes. The big ISPs, not surprisingly, want the right to monetize such data by default, with the burden falling on the user to opt-out.

Consumer advocates are pushing back. “Without these rules, ISPs could use and disclose customer information at will,” a coalition of public interest groups recently wrote to Capitol Hill leaders. “The result could be extensive harm caused by breaches or misuse of data.”

The pro-consumer coalition includes Access Now, the ACLU, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Center for Media Justice, Free Press Action Fund, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, New America’s Open Technology Institute, and Public Knowledge.

The FCC’s privacy policy, which was approved late last year under the leadership of former agency chairman Tom Wheeler, covers “sensitive information” like financial and health data, children’s information, social security numbers, precise geolocation data, web browsing history, mobile app usage data, and the content of online communications.

“I will strongly oppose any efforts to roll back the broadband privacy rules either by Congress or at the FCC.”

Sen. Edward J. Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat, warned in a statement that the “big broadband barons want to turn back the clock and undo these fundamental consumer protections so they can freely collect and profit from customer’s sensitive personal information.”

“I will strongly oppose any efforts to roll back the broadband privacy rules either by Congress or at the FCC,” Markey added.

Not content to make billions of dollars annually off wireless, pay-TV, and internet service subscriptions, the broadband industry giants also want the ability to make even more money off consumers by tracking their online activities and displaying hyper-targeted advertising based on private user preferences and internet browsing habits. (ISPs have already begin experimenting with various forms of this concept, such as AT&T’s short-livedpay-for-privacy” offering. If the FCC’s privacy policy is killed, those plans could quickly proliferate.)

In a recent letter to Congress, a coalition representing the nation’s largest broadband companies argued that the FCC privacy policy could “interfere with the ability of consumers to receive customized services and capabilities they enjoy and be informed of new products and discount offers.”

The broadband industry coalition, which is asking lawmakers to use its authority under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to rescind the rules, added that the FCC policy could “significantly harm consumers as well as our nation’s digital economy.”

Gaurav Laroia, policy counsel at Free Press Action Fund, at DC-based public interest group, strongly disputed those assertions.

“In a dishonest and hypocritical move, these same companies and their lobbyists are claiming that the privacy protections will somehow harm internet users,” Laroia said in a statement. “Clearly that’s a lie. The companies that carry all of our speech online have no business profiting from the information they gather without our consent.”

“The cable, telecom, wireless and advertising lobbies’ request for CRA intervention is just another shameless industry attempt to overturn rules that empower internet users and hamstring the agency’s ability to protect consumer data going forward,” Laroia added. “Congress should stand with internet users and reject this request out of hand.”

The ISPs also complain that the FCC’s rules don’t apply to websites like Google and Facebook, which also collect huge amounts of consumer data. As a result, the telecom industry asserts that the FCC’s policy puts it at a competitive disadvantage relative to the Silicon Valley giants.

But public interest groups say this argument is disingenuous, because the FCC doesn’t have primary jurisdiction over these firms—the Federal Trade Commission does. And in any event, the big telecom companies will still be able to “monetize” the massive amount of sensitive consumer information they collect—they just need to ask users for consent.

“The FCC’s rules give broadband customers confidence that their privacy and choices will be honored, but it does not in any way ban ISPs’ ability to market to users who opt-in to receive any such targeted offers,” the public interest groups wrote. “The rules merely require the ISPs to obtain that informed consent.”

from Trump’s FCC May Let ISPs Sell Your Private Data Without Your Consent

Your Roommate’s Genes May Be Changing Your Health

Our genes are among the most intimate little bits of information that exist, passed down from our parents, and determining the unique traits that make us ourselves.

But what if our social partners’ genes, too, exert some sort of influence on who we are? That’s the startling implication of a new study in mice, published in PLOS Genetics. Scientists in the UK found that many health traits in lab mice—such as anxiety, body weight, the immune system, and the rate at which the body heals from injury—all seem to be, in part, affected by the genes of other mice who share their cage.

It’s well-known that peer pressure can influence our health, through bad habits like smoking. But how genes in one individual may affect another is far less understood. While there’s evidence from other animal studies that a mother’s genes influence the wellbeing of her babies, the idea that social partner’s genes could affect not just one’s behavior but also their body may seem bewildering. How could this even work?

An attentive cage mate could have promoted the healing by licking the wound

It’s far from clear. The study shows that partners’ genes work indirectly through what’s known as social genetic effects (SGEs), whereby the genes in one individual impact the health of another.

“It was eye opening to see that social genetic effects can affect a wide variety of health traits. It’s easy to see why some behavioral traits, like anxiety for example, are affected. But we also found that SGE affect immune function and the rate of wound healing. This was quite surprising,” said Amelie Baud, a postdoctoral researcher at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) in Cambridge UK, who did the bulk of the work.

Baud and her colleagues measured how more than 100 health traits change in response to the cage mates’ genetic makeup. By combining data from some 2,500 mice, she was able to calculate how much of the difference in mouse health can be explained not by their own genes, but by those of their cage mates.

For anxiety, this was around 12 percent, whereas the rate of skin wound closure came up to 18 percent. And for immune response, measured by the body’s readiness to fight infections, the partners’ genes carried even more weight than those in the measured animals.

Read More: Is Your Open Office Making You Sick?

The effects on the immune system and wound healing in particular are puzzling. It’s hard to see how this can be orchestrated by someone else’s genes. There are several possible explanations, according to Oliver Stegle, a geneticist at the EBI and the head of the team that carried out the work.

One way, he said, is through direct contact between mice—an attentive cage mate could have promoted the healing by licking the wound, whereas a scrappy partner would have made it worse. Or, the effect might have been indirect, triggered by stress, which is known to impede the body’s immune defense and healing processes.

Although such effects have not yet been explored in humans, it’s easy to imagine how a stressful social life might take its toll on health.

Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.

from Your Roommate’s Genes May Be Changing Your Health

This Horrific Mannequin Head Camera Wants to Make VR Porn More Intimate

Virtual reality porn production company VR Bangers on Monday unveiled its “POV Head Rig,” a disembodied mannequin head with cameras for eyes that the company says will help make VR porn "more intimate and emotional."

Abject horror, not intimacy, is the first thing that comes to mind when I look into its hollow eyes, but it's an interesting concept. Cameras on the front, back, and top of the head record everything the actor does to its eager noggin. The porn star cradles the androgynous head while they do their thing, whispering sweet words into the binaural microphones in its ears. The result, VR Bangers said, is a more immersive experience.

There are a lot of jokes to be made here about head, but this is a family blog.

This thing was deemed too weird for the prudes at CES 2017, CTO Boris Smirnoff claims in a press release. They took it to the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo instead. He writes in the release, sans irony:

“It’s easy to think that performers will be able to overcome all the odd positions and constraints of filming content so it looks pristine on a virtual screen, but the fact is, the more we can help our models get the most out of their play space, the better our content will continue to be and the real winner in this line of advancements is always our fans,” Smirnoff said. He adds that there’s a “much warmer and more intimate emotional attachment between the performer and the recording device” if you can stroke and whisper to the camera as if it were your audience.

Image: VR Bangers

Virtual reality porn actors do have to overcome a lot more awkwardness than the good ol’ fashioned 2D porn actors. 360 degree rigs, like the one Motherboard visited behind-the-scenes of a shoot, can be heavy and hard to work around. Holding a head sounds a lot easier on the artist.

Whether it rows your boat or not, virtual reality porn is inspiring. The industry is its own microcosm of innovation and the growing pains. It’s carving out new territory for virtual technology, with potential for sex education, advances in automation, and has its own special kinds of legal battles. The adventurous soul can even get a big whiff of someone’s junk through the magic of VR.

It’s beautiful and we’re all going to hell for it, but why not breathe deep and hold our disembodied heads close on the way down.

from This Horrific Mannequin Head Camera Wants to Make VR Porn More Intimate

National Park Employees Break the Silence About Trump’s Hiring Freeze

America’s national parks are suffering the aftermath of President Trump’s federal hiring freeze. Less than two weeks after he signed an executive order halting all new government hires, park employees, both seasonal and permanent, are understaffed, overwhelmed, and generally fearful of what’s to come.

In response to Jason Koebler’s story about the freeze last week, a handful of national park employees, many of whom are afraid to speak up thanks to Trump’s communications ban at the Environmental Protection Agency, reached out to share their concerns.

Some are worried that vacancies could cause irreparable damage to national parks and forests. Others are exhausted from working overtime to compensate for their skeleton staffs. And many are seasonal employees who simply want to do the jobs they were hired for—a cruel irony, considering Trump’s campaign was largely predicated on the promise of employment.

"My entire livelihood is up in the air right now."

Public lands have always been in the President’s crosshairs, and with the support of a Republican-controlled Congress, we’re on track to see a systematic dismantling of their legal protections. Agencies that oversee more than 608 million acres of land entrusted to the American people are expected to be devastated by the order.

Right now, several hundred open job listings from the National Park Service hang in the balance. Approximately 8,000 seasonal postings—from science technicians to custodians to trail builders to interpretive rangers—are also unable to be filled, despite many candidates having already been selected.

Unless exempted by the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, our national parks may look drastically different by the time summer rolls around.

Shast-Trinity National Forest, California. Image: Department of the Interior

“My boss wants to give me a job but no longer has the power to hire personnel. It’s just kind of a waiting game,” a biological science technician and seasonal employee for Yosemite National Park and Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks told me on the condition of anonymity.

“The hiring freeze is bigger than anything we’ve seen before. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were cuts to purely science-based positions. You’re looking at a lot of well qualified, good people who know parks like back of their hands; who love what they do, and aren’t in it for money. Now, a lot of these people are going to take jobs elsewhere,” they added.

Since the voices of federal employees are more or less muzzled at the moment, we’ve decided to publish some of their anonymous testimonials. They’ve been edited for clarity, and to protect the identities of those who contacted us.


National Park Service entrance station operator, seasonal employee

This gentleman was supposed to be my new co-worker. He was supposed to have started long before the hiring freeze, but due to paperwork not being filed when it was supposed to, this is the situation now. I’m the only other employee that works the entrance station full time, so we have to rely on other employees willing to work overtime—myself included—to keep the station open.

Facebook screenshot. Image: Anonymous

My duties as someone who works the entrance station include welcoming visitors to the park, collecting fees, and providing information about the park to visitors. We are the first people that park visitors see as they come into the park. Some of the most important information that we give out to visitors is safety information concerning weather and beach conditions. We also provide information on the amenities available in the park.

Without that help—and if the hiring freeze continues into the summer season—it means that the entrance station will probably only be manned for the minimum amount of time. This means the park loses money that could go to programs, and other necessities to keep the park running.

My entire livelihood is up in the air right now. I don't know what will happen in March, and have no way to plan for what may or may not happen. I love the Park Service and the services we provide to the American people, and it saddens me to think that I might lose the possibility to continue working for them.

National Park Service wilderness EMT, seasonal employee

I have worked in service jobs for our government since I was twenty two. I am now twenty nine. I am not a college graduate. I am a hard worker and I try my best to be a good American who does a good job at whatever I am tasked with. I am not rich, but I am smart with my money and I do ok financially. I am very happy with the work I have been a part of since I started working for the national park service.

"Personally, I feel like this hiring freeze is a slap in the face to me and all my coworkers."

Being a seasonal employee for public lands these days is a lot like being a character from “Of Mice and Men.” You work as hard as you can for a season in a beautiful place, watching other (mostly) more privileged people than you enjoy the spoils of your hard work. You have a dream of eventually getting a highly sought-after permanent government job, or eventually figuring out some way pull enough funds together to get a down payment on land that you can call your own. You often worry about the fact that none of these things are likely to happen on account of the fact that you are never guaranteed a job next season.

Image: Department of the Interior

All it takes is the quick decision of someone with some agenda up in Washington to slash funding and drain swamps, or reel back spending to hurt thousands of people who just want to go to work every summer without begging. These are Republicans and Democrats, mostly middle-class, who love the American landscape more than its politics and the effect it has on anyone both international and national who take the time and effort to engage in it. They are hard working people who are often up before dawn and asleep after dark, battling elements and insects and politicians just to supply a mainline into the rugged individual beauty and solace that the contours of the American landscape and historical markers inhabit and indicate—just so that it can be accessible for all, for all time.

These are people who search for your loved ones when they are lost, and provide a venue to find yourself when you are lost.

They lose their lives and limbs fighting fires and building trails and saving endangered species. Their only agenda is to do their job well and to serve the country that they are proud of, so that others can do the same.

Personally, I feel like this hiring freeze is a slap in the face to me and all my coworkers who pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps to get this far and intend to continue to do so. And it is a negation of all the work and time we put in thus far

National Park Service ranger, permanent employee

I've worked seasonally for the National Park Service over the past nine years, and this year I was finally offered a permanent position with the agency. Now that there is a freeze, it’s unclear whether or not my job offer will be revoked. I've reached out to several people in the agency with no response.

The constant budget issues have caused an ongoing state of anxiety, especially for seasonal staff. When I posted about my potential loss of a job online, I ended up being trolled by multiple strangers arguing that rangers deserve to lose our jobs. They blamed the government shutdown of 2013 on us, and claimed we chose to close the parks out of spite. When I pointed out that Congress is responsible for passing budgets—and without one, no one would be paid to work at the parks—I was told we should work for free and not "take it out" on the public.

Civil servants have been used as a political target by politicians, and have been blamed for their actions. They want the voters to think we're responsible so they can avoid taking responsibility for decisions that are out of our hands. With some parks already cancelling public programs due to staffing limits, I'm worried the blame will be placed on park employees again.

National Park Service wildlife researcher and ranger, seasonal employee

For the last two summers, I've worked at a national park, both as a civilian contractor and a ranger. We were already understaffed this last summer. The difference in staffing even between 2015 and 2016 is staggering.

The interpretive rangers (the people you meet at the visitor center who give talks and answer your questions) were having to double up on evening programs, and there were fewer of them behind the counter than in previous years. This was the year of the centennial, mind you, when park attendance exploded.

"Basically, it's all very confusing and it's clear that hiring officials are confused as well."

The parks are already run with a smaller staff than is necessary. And the hiring of seasonals is absolutely essential. Unfortunately, that hiring process takes quite a bit of time—anywhere from a month to a month and a half. Receiving candidates from the USAJobs website, reviewing the applications, setting up interviews, processing their paperwork. All of this is done at regional offices which will be inundated with everything at once when the hiring freeze ends.

If it goes on even a little bit longer, you're looking at visitor centers and campgrounds not being open until later in the summer. A co-worker I spoke to has told me that they're considering not opening one of their visitor centers at all.

People do depend on these jobs. I have friends who work at one park in the summer, another in the winter, but they're still seasonals. It's incredibly hard to get permanent status in the Park Service, and the hiring freeze is putting people's careers at risk.

Forest Service trail worker, seasonal employee

The Forest Service manages 193 million acres of public land in the US, compared to 84 million acres managed by the National Park Service, including most of our designated wilderness areas. While the Bureau of Land Management manages a lot of rangeland, the Forest Service typically focuses a lot more on recreation (i.e. direct user experience). Your typical mental picture of a hiking trail snaking across scenic mountains likely takes place on national forest land.

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. Image: Department of the Interior

The Forest Service also employs up to 45,000 temporary, seasonal, and permanent employees annually, including about 10,000 wildland firefighters—twice as many total employees as the National Park Service, which has about 22,000 seasonal and permanents. Many experience even lower pay and less job security than National Park Service employees. As a seasonal Forest Service employee, I've struggled to find information about whether and how this hiring freeze affects me. I have several applications pending.

All [agency] job announcements posted on USAJobs after January 22 have been removed until further notice. [I have heard] there is a hold on processing applications even for job announcements that closed before then. However, [some of these vacancies are still up on the website]. Basically, it's all very confusing and it's clear that hiring officials are confused as well.

National Park Service acquisitions, permanent employee

What the administration also didn't take into consideration is acquisitions. Without hires, we [in our particular office] won't be able to procure the goods and services needs to support the National Park Service.

My office was already down [employees] heading into the busy season. We aren't sure how we will do it since we already burned through our overtime at the end of last fiscal year. So, the work won't get done.

Every year, our jobs get harder and harder since budgets get passed later and later, or we continually operate under continuing resolutions. There will come a point when we in acquisitions say, “oh well,” and go home. We are done killing ourselves, and if the work doesn't get done, it doesn't get done.

We used to care but we don't work for free and we aren't going to do overtime every day to try to overcome the government’s shortcomings. It's sad. We have felt the pressures just stack up and stack up and no one seems to notice. No one seems to notice the hard work we do every day. There isn't one person in my office that isn't pulling their weight. Not one lazy person. To be vilified now, as if we are the worst of the worst, is so disappointing. All we've ever done is support our government with pride and hard work.

National Park Service entrance station operator, seasonal employee

I work full-time seasonally in the fee booth entrance station at [a national memorial, which is part of the National Park System]. During the summer season, we may encounter over 1,000 cars coming through the park in one day. We also issue and sell park passes. Often, there are only two of us working the booths (there are 2 booths). If we are lucky, we have a third person helping out.

The line of cars can back up easily to the road if we do not move the cars through the station quickly. This is not always easy, and we also have to be accountable for the funds we collect. During the winter season, we normally have one person working a booth, while the other booth is closed. It will be total chaos if they expect one person to handle this amount of traffic alone.

I have worked two summer seasons, and I am looking forward to returning in April.

from National Park Employees Break the Silence About Trump’s Hiring Freeze

Apple sets revenue and iPhone sales records in Q1 of 2017

Liveblog: Apple’s Q1 2017 earnings call

Robot knows when to hold ‘em, wins huge in poker tournament

At PAX South, gamers gather to protest Trump

Future iOS update will shut the door on apps from the dawn of the smartphone

VR-heavy Windows 10 Creators Update adds WebVR to Edge

Ajit Pai on net neutrality: “I favor an open Internet and I oppose Title II”

Dealmaster: Get a Dell Latitude 14 business notebook for just $599

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our partners at TechBargains, we have a big list of deals to share with you. One of today's featured deals is the Dell Latitude 14 notebook with Windows 10 Pro, a Core i7 processor, and a 500GB hard drive for just $599. In addition, we have a number of smart TVs on sale, as well as monitors, gaming headsets, and more.

Check out the full list of deals below.


Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

from Dealmaster: Get a Dell Latitude 14 business notebook for just $599

Discover archaeological treasures in these satellite images

©DigitalGlobe 2016

When archaeologists want to find lost monuments or hidden cities these days, they turn to satellite imagery. Patterns invisible to the eye on the ground become obvious from the air and help scientists decide where they should start digging. And now you can join those scientists by signing up for GlobalXplorer, a newly launched online community where members look at real satellite imagery from Peru to identify telltale patterns of ancient habitation.

GlobalXplorer is similar to other online citizen science efforts like Galaxy Zoo, where members identify galaxies from deep-field images. When you visit GlobalXplorer, you'll be shown one map tile from a satellite shot of Peru. Each tile is about 200 by 200 meters and is one of roughly 120 million such tiles in the database. After a quick tutorial on the kinds of features to look for, you'll be asked to identify whether the tile contains evidence of looting (in the tutorial, you'll learn that looting holes produce a very distinctive pattern), illegal encroachment by developers, or a possible ancient structure. The more tiles you classify, the more you can level up and gain access to new data and more difficult identification tasks.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

from Discover archaeological treasures in these satellite images

Trump says he’s “fixed” F-35 program after less than month in office

The BAC Mono is basically a Formula 3 car for the road

Jim Resnick

It was a day I dreaded at the last minute, but not for any expected reason. Driving BAC's single-seat track-day weapon, the Mono, on a course I'd never seen before was child's play compared to the filter through which I'd have to do it. I threw my back out 36 hours prior, with the long muscles in my back clenching up stiff and unyielding like mandolin strings. Merely walking upright required an unsightly posture for which I was both embarrassed and pissed off. There wasn't enough ibuprofen in the world.

But the Mono didn't care, and that's what mattered. Much more race car than road car, the BAC Mono comes from that specialized region of the automotive fringe that seeks the closest thing to an actual thoroughbred professional race car, but for mere enthusiasts who missed the professional racing driver boat and have normal careers as bankers, lawyers, software engineers, or journalists. The demographic for track-day specials like the Mono is nonsensical until you realize that the entire family of car diseases—and the track-day strain of it in particular—cares not for demographics. Cater to the passionate and the passionate will come.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

from The BAC Mono is basically a Formula 3 car for the road

8TB, HGST disks show top reliability, racking up 45 years without failure

AT&T’s multi-gigabit wireless over power lines heading to trials this year

A look at the new battery storage facility in California built with Tesla Powerpacks

Megan Geuss

ONTARIO, Calif.—East of LA, a natural gas peaker plant surrounded by fields of cows got a new, futuristic neighbor. Under a maze of transmission lines, a 20MW battery storage facility made of nearly 400 closet-sized batteries sitting on concrete pads now supplies 80MWh to utilities.

The project is an anomaly not just because it’s one of the largest energy storage facilities on the grid in California today, but also because it was built in record time—the project was just announced in September when regulators ordered utility Southern California Edison to invest in utility-scale battery storage, a year after a natural gas well in Aliso Canyon, California, sprang a leak and released 1.6 million pounds of methane into the atmosphere. The leak prompted a shutdown of the natural gas storage facility, one of the largest west of the Mississippi. Regulators were concerned that such a shutdown would cause energy and gas shortages, although that worry has not come to fruition entirely, and SoCal Gas has begun tentatively withdrawing gas again in recent weeks.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

from A look at the new battery storage facility in California built with Tesla Powerpacks

Driving the Tesla Model S through the countryside—watch out for autopilot

Sebastian Anthony

Reading about the Tesla Model S has become rather repetitive. Yes, it's an electric car. Yes, supercharging is free (well, for those who bought a car before 2017). Yes, autopilot is really cool (but really quite scary on country roads). And yes, the P90D (now the P100D) 0-60mph acceleration is truly insane.

But, when you get right down to it, how important are those things for everyday use, and how many of them are just technorgiastic concepts that drive lots of headline clicks?

Read 40 remaining paragraphs | Comments

from Driving the Tesla Model S through the countryside—watch out for autopilot

LG 5K display must be kept at least 2 meters away from Wi-Fi routers

Super Mario Run hits 78 million downloads—but only five percent buy it

Doctor Who’s Peter Capaldi to ditch TARDIS at end of 2017

Twitter chief promises “completely new approach” to crackdown on abuse

Star Wars: Red Cup is the working title for the Han Solo spinoff movie

People Really Need to Know When They're Being Experimented On

In the long view, modern history is the story of increasing rights of control over your body – for instance, in matters of reproduction, sex, where you live and whom you marry. Medical experimentation is supposed to be following the same historical trend – increasing rights of autonomy for those whose bodies are used for research.

Indeed, the Nuremberg Code, the founding document of modern medical research ethics developed after the Second World War in response to Nazi medical experiments, stated unequivocally that the voluntary, informed consent of the human subject is essential. Every research ethics code since then has incorporated this most fundamental principle. Exceptions to this rule are supposed to be truly exceptional.

Yet today, more and more medical experimenters in the United States appear to circumvent getting the voluntary, informed consent of those whose bodies are being used for research. What’s more, rather than fighting this retrograde trend, some of the most powerful actors in medical research are defending it as necessary to medical progress.

Indeed, the Nuremberg Code...stated unequivocally that the voluntary, informed consent of the human subject is essential.

A few years ago, I fell in with a growing group of professionals in medicine and allied fields such as bioethics who have mobilised to defend the right to informed consent in medical experimentation. As a historian of medicine, I had worked since 1996 with intersex rights activists on improving care for children born with bodies in between the male and female types. In 2009, colleagues alerted me that a group of parents judged ‘at risk’ of having a child born with a particular genetic intersex condition appeared to be unwitting subjects in a medical experiment.

A major researcher and physician was promoting the prenatal use of a drug (dexamethasone) aimed at preventing intersex development. Targeting would-be parents who knew they had this condition running in their families, the researcher told them that the ‘treatment’ had been ‘found safe for mother and child’.

In fact, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved dexamethasone for preventing intersex development, much less found it ‘safe’ for this use. Indeed, the FDA has noted dexamethasone causes harm in foetal animals exposed to it. No one seems to have told the parents that this ‘treatment’ had not gone through anything like the normal route of drug approval: there has been no animal modelling of this use, no blinded control trial for effectiveness, and no long-term prospective safety trials in the US, where thousands of foetuses appear to have been exposed.

Shockingly, at the same time that this researcher was pushing the ‘treatment’ as ‘safe’, she was obtaining grants from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to use the same families in retrospective studies to see if it had been safe. A Swedish research group has recently confirmed—through fully consented, prospective studies—that this drug use can cause brain damage in the children exposed prenatally.

As I sought allies in defending the rights of these families, I discovered that, while this was an especially egregious case of failure to obtain informed consent to what amounted to a medical experiment, the lapse was not unique. Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, a Washington-based NGO, has been leading the work in tracking cases where medical researchers fail in their obligations to obtain informed consent.

Recently, Public Citizen, together with the American Medical Student Association, sounded an alarm about two clinical trials, one called iCOMPARE, the other FIRST. In these studies, researchers extended the working hours of newly trained physicians to see if these physicians and their patients were better or worse off with the most inexperienced doctors working longer, more tiring shifts.

The young doctors used in these studies were not given the option of not participating. If their residency programmes participated, they were in. More concerning, their patients were never informed that they were experimental subjects, even though a primary research goal was to see if patients treated by residents working longer shifts would experience higher rates of harm.

Some studies tracked by Public Citizen reveal downright bizarre ethical mistakes. A recent study funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services, led by a US Department of Veterans Affairs researcher, sought to determine whether, if brain-dead kidney donors’ bodies were cooled after brain death, living recipients of the transplanted kidneys did better. The researchers decided they didn’t need to get voluntary consent to the experiment from the living kidney recipients. They simply maintained the dead donors were the experimental subjects.

The largest contemporary fight over failure to obtain informed consent has been over the Surfactant Positive Airway Pressure and Pulse Oximetry Trial (or SUPPORT). This was a large NIH-funded study meant to determine, in part, whether higher or lower levels of oxygen after birth provided very premature babies with benefit or harm. The consent forms for this study did not inform the parents that the experiment’s purpose was to see if, by being randomly assigned to one of two experimental oxygen ranges, babies end up more likely to be blind, neurologically damaged or die.

Most parents also weren’t informed that the researchers would use experimental measuring devices meant to ‘blind’ professional caregivers to the babies’ real oxygen levels to try to make the study more rigorous. Researchers told many parents that the study involved no special risks because all the procedures in the research were supposedly standard of care. This was a demonstrably untrue claim.

In this case, the US Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) – an agency meant to protect the rights of people in federally funded research – agreed with Public Citizen and an allied group of more than 40 of us in medicine and bioethics that the informed consent for this trial was seriously inadequate. But in a series of emails meant to stay private, top NIH officials pressured the OHRP to back off its criticisms. OHRP is supposed to oversee NIH’s work, not the other way around!

NIH leaders also partnered with the editor of The New England Journal of Medicine to publicly defend this study. The journal’s editor-in-chief tried actively to limit the ability of us critics to respond. Meanwhile, the parents were never officially informed of what happened to their babies.

Those defending these troubling studies often argue that elaborate consent procedures can get in the way of obtaining important scientific results. They say that subjects might encounter the risks of the experiment even in ‘normal’ patient care, so we might as well engage them in studies without scaring them off through frightening research consent forms.

It is true that the current research ethics system in the US is cumbersome, inefficient and dysfunctional. Researchers often find themselves confused and frustrated by the bureaucracies of research ethics systems.

But that is no excuse not to vigorously maintain the first principle of the Nuremberg Code: the voluntary consent of the subject is essential. We can’t afford the risk to medical research that sloppy ethics entail; when the public finds out about the circumvention of informed consent – as in the case of the infamous US Public Health Service syphilis study at Tuskegee – the damage to the integrity and authority of the medical research community is inevitably significant and long-lasting.

The tenets of the Nuremberg Code were not meant only for Nazis. If Nazis presented the only danger to people being used for medical experiments, eliminating the Nazis would have solved our problems. The Nuremberg Code was written to guide all of us, because good intentions are not enough.Aeon counter – do not remove

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

from People Really Need to Know When They're Being Experimented On

How InfoWorld Broke Ground and Pissed Off Steve Jobs in the Process

Image: InfoWorld

In the late '70s and into the early '80s, the tech world was vastly removed from its current omnipresence in American life. Computers were a curiosity. The average consumer would never have considered purchasing a computer for his or her home—on the rare occasion that computers were used by the public, it was strictly in the context of professional business. Most of the tech journalism at the time reflected that sort of mentality—very niche and very inaccessible.

“Most trade publications at that time were deadly boring,” said John Markoff, a former, long-time tech journalist for The New York Times, in an interview with Motherboard. “They were insider publications for people who were professionals or employees in an industry sub-grouping. The publications wouldn’t be interesting to anybody outside of that.”

“People were still trying to figure out what to use these machines for,” continued Markoff. “[At the time], people were in love with these machines as toys and hobby projects.”

Markoff was an early writer and editor for InfoWorld, the first weekly tech newspaper. Founded in 1978, InfoWorld originated as an earlier publication called Intelligent Machines Journal, which was largely geared towards power users.

Image: InfoWorld

But the name of the publication changed in 1980—founder Jim Warren sold the publication to the International Data Group the prior year. And with the name change came a more mainstream focus. The tech community had grown large enough and widespread enough that its writers covered industry news—trends, announcements, unique people, and personalities. It was the first step to moving tech out of the exclusive hands of hobbyists and into the hands of a non-professional, non-technical audience.

InfoWorld was very much a bootstraps, knife-in-the-teeth operation. And one major, early obstacle was the lack of experience on staff.

“There weren’t a lot of professional journalists in the mix,” said Markoff. “We were making it up as we went along. Our editor-in-chief, Maggie Cannon, had been a secretary. My editor, John Dvorak, had previously run a small software company, but he had no experience with journalism at all. I was probably one of the most experienced journalists there, and I didn’t have any experience other than some freelance writing.”

John Barry, Managing Editor of InfoWorld in its early days, remembers the struggles of putting together the publication. He was primarily in charge of the newspaper’s production, and the technological limitations of the early 80’s led to some problems that a modern observer might take for granted

“The editors all had typewriters. No one even had a computer,” recalled Barry in an interview with Motherboard. “The writers would draft their manuscript on typewriters. Copy editor Eva Langfeldt would copy-edit the manuscripts and send them to the type house. And those manuscripts would get sent back and forth by mail carrier.

“Sometimes, when you cut in line corrections, the type density could vary because the mix of chemicals wouldn’t be the same on any given day,” said Barry. “You could see where the lines were cut in because the type would be darker or lighter.”

Barry also had a role in shaping InfoWorld’s editorial voice, which intended to counter the “computerphobia” of the lay public.

“I was mainly concerned with production, but when I started, we didn’t have a copy editor,” recalled Barry. “I was frankly put off by a lot of the jargon and convoluted language of the industry. I remember I worked hard at trying to streamline things. Even though the subjects were technical, I tried to render them in more approachable language.”

“We were trying to figure out how to not be super technical,” said Markoff, “because we were writing for people who were not technically trained. We had to understand the technology but also translate what it was for a broader audience. We had to talk more about how this technology was used, and what its application was.”

“The first story I did was an article about a printer interface,” continued Markoff. “And Langfeld came back to me with it, because I had included every technical specification in the article. She guided me through the idea that I wasn’t writing for a technical audience. I was writing for a consumer audience.”

Markoff remembers some of his best scoops, such as the dangers of using personal computers on commercial airliners.

Image: InfoWorld

“I did some reporting on the risks of people using computers on airplanes,” Markoff recalled. “An Osborne I (an early, “luggable” computer), weighed about 40 pounds. You could barely put it on your lap. But if you did and turned it on, it would give off radio frequency emissions all over the spectrum, including on some of the airliner’s landing frequencies. [My feature article] got a tremendous amount of attention, and it got InfoWorld recognized outside of its tiny niche.”

InfoWorld also printed a fair amount of gossip. And that was the sort of thing that landed the staff in hot water with its subjects, especially when they reported on secret projects.

“About two weeks after I arrived at InfoWorld. I walked into the office of Senior Editor Paul Freiberger,” said Markoff. “He was about to break the story about Apple’s codenames: LISA and Macintosh. This was 1981. The LISA didn’t come out until 1983, and the Macintosh didn’t come out until 1984. And as I walked into his office, Paul held the telephone away from his ear, because somebody was screaming at him. And that someone was Steve Jobs.”

“He was infuriated,” said Markoff. “And he was telling Paul that if he ran this story, the Japanese would be all over him and use it to their advantage, and that Paul was going to be responsible. We ran the story anyway. It was the first public airing of those code words, even though we still didn’t know what the technology was at that point.”

Freiberger also remembers that day well.

“Jobs was angry at me,” said Freiberger in an interview with Motherboard. “But he did calm down about it. We eventually had a nice relationship and spoke at length many times. But at the time, we were all winging it a bit, and so was he. He wasn’t used to dealing with journalists, and he didn’t like it.”

Image: InfoWorld

“Jobs later became a whole lot more sophisticated,” Freiberger said. “He became someone who was very adept at dealing with the press and controlling the public image of both himself and Apple.”

Image: InfoWorld

This early, awkward interaction between Jobs and a journalist illustrates the comparative insularity of the modern tech industry. It’s a strange irony for an industry that prides itself on lack of communication barriers.

“There were very few big companies in the field back then,” said Freiberger. “And there were very few sophisticated public relations organizations controlling access to companies. We could pick up the phone and call the president of a company. And, we also might hear from the president of the company. As I said before, Steve Jobs contacted me. On another occasion, Bill Gates contacted me, because he wasn’t happy with an article I’d written. And Apple and Microsoft were two of the bigger companies back in those days. Imagine how easy it would have been to talk to any senior executive of almost any company back then.”

Today, tech journalism is in a dramatically different field than it was 30 years ago. Print is dying. Digital is thriving. And much of digital journalism—both its packaging and its delivery—is visually intensive, collaborative, and interactive. Markoff is torn by the rise in these current trends.

“Has something been lost in the transition from print?” asked Markoff. “I go back and forth on that. Technology is still changing, and is still not stable. So [the relay of information] might be chaotic for some time. You walk down any city street, and people are staring at the palm of their hand, which is where everyone is getting their information. I can’t believe that’s the last step for user interface.”

“I have no idea what it will be,” said Markoff, “but I’m convinced that the way we consume information will move beyond that.”

from How InfoWorld Broke Ground and Pissed Off Steve Jobs in the Process

How Canada’s Supreme Court Is Fighting ‘Link Rot’

The Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa. Image: detsang/Flickr

In an age where governments are facing heavy criticism for purging online data, the Supreme Court of Canada has publicly archived all hyperlinks cited in its judgements, a proactive move that bucks the trend of institutional information vanishing from the internet.

The highest court in the land recently launched a website listing hundreds of PDF captures of hyperlinks referenced in its rulings, dating back to 1998. These hyperlinks include UN treaties, consumer contracts and legal definitions, and will now live indefinitely, where anyone in the public can reference them to better understand the judges’ reasoning.

Rosalie Fox, the court’s library director, said the move is meant to tackle “link rot,” when cited materials disappear online.

“We want to have a holistic approach to being able to read the judgement, examine the case file and look at the secondary sources that the judges was able to read or access, and cited—so that you've got the whole picture,” Fox said in an interview.

For years, court librarians have tried to avoid citing hyperlinks, because print sources are more likely to be preserved in public archives and libraries.

“There’s a real need to grapple with the perishable nature of things on the internet"

But when Fox and her colleagues started noticing that they had to increasingly cite online-only sources—and that some URLs were broken—they proposed archiving the court’s links. In 2014, they asked judicial libraries in each province and territory if they were tackling link rot. “At the time that we consulted, no one was doing this,” she said.

Fox says her team counted 161 hyperlinks in about half as many rulings, and 40 of the links were broken. Others linked to pages that had since been updated—for example, a training manual which had been replaced by a newer version.

Librarians took to the Wayback Machine and the Canadian Government Publications Portal, both of which are hosted by the nonprofit Internet Archive. They collected whichever archived version of the page was captured closest to the date when the judges accessed it.

“We’re cautious in our approach. We definitely want to ensure some contextual continuity,” said Fox.

She had lawyers check that putting the PDFs online would fall under the Copyright Act’s “fair dealing” provisions, which exempts copyright for purposes like study, parody or news reporting. To be safe, Fox’s team uploaded segments of privately owned work, like a single page from a 2003 article in the journal Business & Legal Reports.

As of January 31, the archive included 205 English language links, and almost as many in French. They range from the dictionary definition of “state of the art,” to UK Crown prosecutor guidelines on hypnotizing witnesses. The latter was used in the court’s rationale in ordering a retrial in a murder case, after a judge inappropriately admitted testimony from a witness who changed her testimony after undergoing hypnosis at the request of police.

Toronto lawyer Ren Bucholz described the court’s move as a positive step amid a trend of governments wiping out their data, either intentionally or due to site upgrades.

“There’s a real need to grapple with the perishable nature of things on the internet,” said Bucholz, who monitored these issues for the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation. “The internet is being populated at rate we’ve never seen before. But that means it’s also deteriorating and losing information at an incredible rate as well.”

Read More: The Entire Internet Will Be Archived In Canada to Protect It From Trump

Courts are rising to the challenge. In October 2015, the US Supreme Court opened a similar PDF archive of cited links after a report found half were already broken. Previously, the court’s librarians printed out links and included them in physical case files.

In San Francisco, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has archived 648 sites in PDFs.

Michigan’s Supreme Court archives all its cited links through Perma.cc, a crowdsourced link preservation site launched by the Harvard Library Innovation Lab. While anyone can put links on the Perma.cc server, they have to be renewed every two years in order to not expire. But links posted by universities, courts and journal editors stay permanently in the database.

Canada’s federal bureaucracy is now crafting a digitization strategy to make sure that government departments preserve the information they publish. Bucholz hopes it will have enough resources to track thousands of pages, from scores of agencies.

“We all have a role in supporting the social benefit of the internet,” said Bucholz. “If we take it for granted that information will always be there, we run the risk of losing it even before we understand what we have."

Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.

from How Canada’s Supreme Court Is Fighting ‘Link Rot’